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The Media Man Reviews: Sonic Frontiers (Part 1)


Sonic the Hedgehog hasn't had a great run in recent years. A lot of people say that the 2000's was the decade that really tarnished his reputation with games like Shadow the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 20006 making the franchise a laughing stock but honestly, I'd say he had it even worse in the 2010's. After his big anniversary celebration with Sonic Generations, he just churned out mediocre game after mediocre game with SEGA constantly failing to get it right. The writing in the games was often very poor with the biggest offenders being Sonic Lost World, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric and ESPECIALLY Sonic Forces, some of the games were downright terrible to play like Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, Sonic Forces bombed so hard that the franchise took a break for a few years before we got this new game and the Sonic Twitter page just turned the franchise into a bigger joke by joining in with the memes and humour mocking the blue blur. Even Sonic Boom didn't turn out well with the games being OK at best to terrible at worst and the TV series only lasted two seasons before quietly disappearing without even a grand final stand. The Archie Sonic the Hedgehog comics got cancelled after a mediocre reboot and a terrible sequel to Sonic and Mega Man: Worlds Collide failed to catch any attention and it got rebooted over at IDW Comics with a new comic that fails in multiple ways due to poor writing that suffers too much from Idiot Plots and lack of engaging characters.


So yeah, the 2010's is the true Dark Age of the Sonic franchise if you ask me. And here we are with Sonic Frontiers being released last year. This was meant to be Sonic's big comeback after the 2010's tarnished his reputation and put the franchise in limbo for a bit. There was much hype going into the game with the fact that famed comic writer Ian Flynn was writing the story and that this was going to be Sonic's first open world game. Huh, what was it with 2022 and long running video game franchises entering open world for the first time? First Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, now this. Despite this, people had their doubts going into the game with some seeming unimpressed by the gameplay and the relatively barren world the game was set in. But when it was released, the game was met with positive reception from critics AND fans. I started off by watching all the cutscenes to the game to see what the story was like...and now here I am having played the game itself.


So is Sonic Frontiers the big new game Sonic needs to redeem himself after so many failures last decade? Or should Sage delete this game from existence? Let's dive into this new frontier and find out...


Section 1: The Story


In this game, Sonic, Tails and Amy end up landing on a mysterious set of islands that have technology beyond anything they've ever seen before and a connection between the mortal realm and what they dub "Cyber Space". Sonic finds that his friends are stuck between dimensions and he has to rescue them, but a mysterious girl named Sage keeps trying to get him to leave for undisclosed reasons. As Sonic ignores her and challenges the islands to get his friends back, they all come to learn there's more to these islands than meets the eye...


Sonic games in the 2010's had a bad habit of overly prioritizing cringey jokes and forced attempts at being funny while also leaving their stories one-dimensional and lacking in any real substance. It's like the worst of the MCU as a Sonic game in that regard. Sonic Frontiers completely flip-turns upside down the worst of the 2010's era and gives us a story that surprisingly takes itself more seriously than your usual Sonic games do. There's not quite as much humour this time around, the story actually reads as a character study of Sonic and friends which I'll get into later, the threat is played up more seriously, there's a heavy focus on world-building and it even gets pretty emotional at times, namely anything surrounding Sage but again, I'll get into that in the characters section. Even the SOUNDTRACK reflects this change in tone as some of it sounds more sombre and quiet compared to the loud, energetic tracks Sonic games usually have! It's actually very welcome to see Sonic telling this kind of story again as that was what made the franchise interesting and cool to begin with. I'm not saying Sonic has to be dark and gritty of course, but that it was better when it was going for this kind of tone instead of trying too hard to be funny.


The story is immediately engaging thanks to the world-building that surrounds the islands we're exploring and how they're so full of mystery that dates back to goodness knows when and makes us want to learn more about it. As we go on, we end up getting fascinating new lore revealed behind the Chaos Emeralds, Chaos's species and more. It really feels like for once, we have a Sonic game that truly adds something new to the franchise and adds to what came before. Speaking of what came before, you can tell this is an Ian Flynn penned story because it contains his usual writing quirks of references and call backs to previous games. Yet unlike some of the times he does that in the comics, they don't feel intrusive or just there for fan-service. It feels like the game truly wants to connect to previous titles and make the continuity feel more whole as a result. Also Flynn takes this opportunity to build upon the characters with these call backs. Sonic's friends go over past events and decide to take directions in their lives to better themselves and grow into the people they're capable of becoming. That felt so good and I enjoyed seeing this development and how the characters are actually evolving for once instead of remaining stagnant. Whether this'll carry over into the next game, I don't know...


And as mentioned before, the game actually gets pretty emotional at times. There's the character study of Sonic and friends I already mentioned which I imagine might make people teary-eyed with the whole theme of moving on and following new paths, but the story surrounding Sage is where most of the story's heart lies. I know I really felt for her when she lamented over how beautiful Sonic and Tails's friendship is and how she wished she could have something like that. I'll cover more in the characters section but for the story, I'll say that the emotional factor really works for this game and gives the story more depth as a result.


The story isn't perfect by any means. For starters, the story reads like one of those annoying types of plots in where the whole thing could've been avoided if the characters just explained things to each other. At least here, there's a justifiable reason behind it given Eggman forbid Sage from disclosing information to his enemies so Sage COULDN'T explain even if she wanted to but still, I hate it when this kind of plot happens as it just feels annoying and even somewhat cheap when your plot only happens because the characters don't explain things to each other. Also the story gives us yet another "Sonic and Eggman have to team up to stop big threat" plot. Like come on guys, how many times must we do this kind of plot in a Sonic game?


Oh and that entire plotpoint of Sonic being corrupted by Cyber-Corruption? Completely pointless. It lasts all of five minutes before it's solve ridiculously easily and nothing ever comes out of it. Sonic's just fine after his friends save him and it never leaves any sort of impact on him. It's just over and done with so quickly that I question why it's there at all.


Also, I dunno if it's just me, but I found the final threat to be...underwhelming. There's so much world-building and lore behind the islands and the original inhabitants and it's all interesting stuff. But then you have The End in where it's just a floating moon and we barely know anything about it. Yes it makes it more unnerving because we know so little about it, but a bit of extra info would've been nice like what is it and why it's killing everything? It feels like Flynn spent so much time on everything else that he forgot to establish a threat to face and just hastily threw in The End at the last minute to justify everything.


Nevertheless, this is still the best story for a Sonic game we've had since Sonic Unleashed and Sonic and the Black Knight. It's almost miraculous how much the quality of the writing shot up after Sonic Forces completely shot itself in the head! Here's hoping we get more writing like this and less like the 2010's era in future Sonic games...


Section 2: The Characters


The Sonic crew are back and better than ever thanks to the improved writing in the story.


We have the blue blur himself, Sonic the Hedgehog (voiced by Roger Craig Smith). He's his usual cocky, determined self who is willing to do whatever it takes to save his friends in spite of impossible odds. This game however shows us more of Sonic's softer side as he gets a lot of tender and heart-warming moments with his friends (mostly Tails and Amy) and he event shows that he's smarter than he lets on for he makes some intelligent observations at times as he explores the ruins. It's so refreshing to see these sides of Sonic being shown more as the 2010's era overly focused on his cocky personality and acted like that's all he was. This Sonic feels like a three-dimensional character again and it's great to see him seem more mature while still feeling like Sonic. The fact he supports his friends in their own arcs and their plans for the future was just wonderful and I loved it.


For his friends, Tails (voiced by Colleen O'Shaughnessey), Amy (voiced by Cindy Robinson) and Knuckles (voiced by Dave B. Mitchell) are all back too and are just as compelling as Sonic is. Not only do all of them feel like they've been restored to their former selves with their personalities closer to their pre-Sonic X days (Sonic and Knuckles especially feel more like the friendly rivals they used to be) but they also feel like they're much smarter and more mature than how they were in the 2010's era. All of them go through this adventure deciding they want to start a new path in life whether it's Tails reaching his full potential by going it alone so he's not dependant on Sonic all the time in response to him being "wildly inconsistent" (no joke, he actually says that), Amy spreading more love to the world and no longer making Sonic the focus of her obsessions and Knuckles resolving to explore more of the world outside of Angel Island. It's so great seeing this game fix these characters that been damaged by previous media's warping the public reception of them for so long and hopefully their developments will continue in future games.


Dr. Eggman (voiced by Mike Pollock) is here as well and while he's not the main threat of the game, he is the cause of what happens in the game as his actions drive the plot going forward. Eggman doesn't really do much in the story afterwards aside from bark orders at Sage a lot but he does get to help out during the climax. Also even he gets some depth to his character as we see that he not only feels close to Sage, but outright considers her his own daughter. I never expected Eggman to go in that direction but it's quite welcome to see him act more than just a world-conquering tyrant. I only wish we saw more of him and Sage bonding instead of some of that development being relegated to voice memos we can unlock during the fishing minigame but still, I hope we see more of this side to Eggman in future games.


And that brings us to unquestionably the best character in Sonic Frontiers, Sage (voiced by Ryan Bartley). She's an AI created by Dr. Eggman to serve him and to protect him from any perceived threats. Sage not only performs her duties with unwavering loyalty, she even exceeds all expectations to the point Eggman considers her his own daughter. Sage is a being that runs entirely on logic, but her encounters with Sonic cause her to consider that maybe life isn't all about simulations and calculations. This ends up giving her a desire to...live essentially and we have that beautiful moment where she breaks down in tears over Sonic and Tails's friendship while lamenting over how she wishes she could experience love like so. She may actually be jealous of Sonic and friends and that jealousy only makes her desire to live more and even be more willing to work with Sonic when Eggman isn't. I love how Flynn gave so much depth to this character and didn't just make her another generic Eggman minion. I'll be glad if she gets to show up in future games after this...


We have the main villain of our story, The End (voiced by both Cindy Robinson and Mike Pollock). As mentioned above, The End is just a Generic Doomsday Villain that's so vaguely explained and developed that it fails to leave any real impact and is less a character and more just a really powerful obstacle for Sonic to defeat. It's a pity it's so underdeveloped because the mystery building up to it was really fascinating and the fact it's so powerful makes it pretty scary...but that's all it has going for it. It's just this really powerful bad thing that has to be stopped. You can't just make it this vague and expect us to buy it, you need to develop it more! I'll give it credit for being cunning and manipulative in how it tricks Sonic into freeing but still, a proper defined villain instead of just a generic apocalyptic being would've been nice.


While the characters are great, I sadly had to give some criticism to the voice-acting. I dunno what was going on here but everyone sounds very low-energy and like they just weren't feeling it at the time. Cindy gets the worst of it for she lacks any of the energy and enthusiasm that Amy usually has and even makes her sound depressed half the time. Also I feel that it might be time for Mike Pollock to retire as Eggman because he really sounds like he's had enough of voicing the character at this point. He just sounds like he hasn't got the energy he needs anymore to keep playing the character so it might be time that someone else takes over. It says a lot when Ryan Bartley as Sage is giving the best performance here, and she's the one that has to sound like an emotionless AI! If the low-energy performances are to fit the more serious tone of the story, I don't buy it because media can have serious tones AND still have great acting in them! Need I remind you of shows like Daredevil and Jessica Jones? So again, why is the voice-acting so dull in this game? It's not all bad thankfully but still, I think the game could've done with a better voice director because this was NOT the cast's best work...


Dull voice acting aside, this is the best we've seen the Sonic cast be in a while and I enjoyed seeing how they were handled here. Definitely a huge step-up from how they were last decade...


Continued in Part 2...

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